Portsmouth Confederate statue turmoil: How city leaders became pitted against police

Posted at 4:12 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 07:26:23-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The city of Portsmouth is embroiled in confederate monument turmoil that’s pitted city leaders against police.

The months longs conflict in the city that lead up to charges against more than a dozen city leaders began Tuesday, June 9. That night, NAACP leaders covered the city’s Confederate monument on Court Street with a tarp. Police were called to the scene, but no arrest were made. NAACP leaders claims Police Chief Angela Greene gave them the okay to cover the statue.

The next day, Wednesday June 10, the monument was uncovered. NAACP leaders stood ground inside the fencing of the statue until it could be recovered with tarps.

“They said we had the right to exercise our first amendment rights as long as we were not defacing the property, that we could be out here exercising our rights and that the covering was fine on the monument as long as it wasn’t defacing property,” explained NAACP President James Boyd back on June 10.

A short time later, police arrest Boyd and NAACP Vice President Louie Gibbs for trespassing. The move by police galvanized a much larger group to begin protesting at the monument.

In an arrest warrant, police claim NAACP members brought spray paint and tagged the statue along with the Portsmouth Public Defender Brenda Spray and other members of her office.

Later in the day after NAACP leaders were arrested, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, came to the monument. Lucas is captured on video telling officers they could not arrest spray painters before the spray painting began.

“If the city had done what they were supposed to do, these citizens wouldn’t have to do it,” stated Lucas in a police body worn camera recording.

Another exchanged from body worn camera video of Chief Greene, captures a conversation between Green, Boyd, Gibbs, and Sen. Lucas, “You all were not authorized to be on the property, said Greene. NACCP then asked Greene, “what’s the list of restrictions though?” Sen. Lucas interrupt Greene before she can respond, “They are now. They are now. Dr. Patton Just gave them permission through me.”

More protesters showed up throughout the afternoon and evening as officers looked on at the destruction of the monument until a man was nearly killed when a piece of the statue fell on him.

Greene has previously stated her goal was “preservation of life” and misinformation lead to officers not arresting people when the spray painting began, “There was misinformation given that it was down through other elected officials that was actually the call that was made. So I had to make some calls to find out exactly where that order was coming from, by that time there were already engaging in the property damage,” said Greene on the evening of June 10.

More than 2 months later, and after the NAACP's trespassing charges were dismissed, Portsmouth police issued arrest warrants for several NAACP members, Sen. Lucas, and several attorneys with the Portsmouth Public Defender’s Office in reference to defacing and destroying the monument.

“When a discussion with the Commonwealth’s attorney regarding a special grand jury and special prosecutor did not yield any action, it was the duty of the Portsmouth Police Department to begin a thorough and comprehensive investigation into this incident,” said Greene during a press conference Monday announcing the arrests.

Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales told News 3 she never received the complete investigative report from police to determine if charges were appropriate.

In an email to council members Wednesday, City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton writes that Chief Greene reported a conflict of interest as it related to any investigation of the incidents at the Confederate monument.

Patton went on to write she was unaware arrest warrants were being issues until August 17 and is was “surprised and troubled” by the Chief’s investigation.

In an email Thursday evening, Chief Greene responds to the accusation she should not have been involved in an investigation because of a known conflict of interest, "During our investigation, it was determined that although felonious acts were committed by several individuals, no conflicts of interest for this department were revealed."

In the statement, Greene goes on to say Morales did not receive a complete investigative file because she was named as a potential witness, which would create a conflict of interest for the prosecutor's office.

"And after all efforts were exhausted to have a special grand jury appointed or an outside agency investigate the matter, it was evident that the investigation would be left up to our agency."

Among city leaders calling on the resignation of their police chief— Senator Lucas' daughter, Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke.

News 3 reached out to City Manager, Dr. Patton, and Mayor John Rowe for comment. Neither responded to our request.

Related: Portsmouth community leaders asking for Police Chief Angela Greene to resign immediately after felony charges against Sen. Louise Lucas, 13 others